The popularity of DNA testing has been on the rise in the last couple of years, with companies like AncestryDNA and 23andMe promising to provide the most complete genetic picture that they can, for as low as $70. It’s extraordinarily easy if you’ve got the cash: spit in a cup, send it off in the mail, and wait. A couple of months later, and you’ve got access to your entire genetic and ethnic history.
To many of us, this whole thing is just about curiosity. We want to know who we are and where we came from. We want to find our ethnic origins, locate long-lost relatives, and cement our ties to the ones we already have. If obtained from a company like 23andMe, which provides information regarding one’s genetic health as well as their ethnicity, DNA testing can also provide access to life-altering information about potential current and future health risks, and bring us one step closer to living our best and healthiest lives.
But can we trust these companies to provide us with accurate results?
These companies will be the first to tell you that when it comes to your genetic heritage, total accuracy cannot be guaranteed. That doesn’t mean that the results are wrong; it just means that, like anything, there is a certain margin of error when it comes to DNA testing. For example, the results may say that you are 8% Eastern European, but really you could be anywhere from 3-22%. The point is your genes are similar enough to their eastern European sample to indicate that you probably have some ancestors from that region. Curiosity (for the most part) satisfied.
However, while total accuracy is not guaranteed, it’s not accuracy that should be your biggest concern when considering DNA testing.
Privacy concerns are becoming more and more of an issue—after all, sending a complete copy of your genetic code to a corporation through the mail doesn’t come without risks. Both 23andMe and AncestryDNA have research partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, and there is real concern about the possibility of insurance companies eventually getting the information and using it to discriminate against applicants.
Those who are concerned ought to know that AncestryDNA and 23andMe both have lengthy privacy statements detailing when and to whom they can disclose your genetic information. They claim that unless you agree, your information will remain with just 23andMe or Ancestry.
However, despite these companies claiming to be protecting your privacy, if a warrant or subpoena is in play, there’s not much you can do about it. Last year, the police department in Idaho Falls mistakenly connected a DNA sample from an unknown murder suspect to one of an innocent man after obtaining DNA sample from an AncestryDNA database.
While the chances of being accidentally tied to a murder investigation due to a DNA test are slim, that doesn’t stop potential customers from worrying. It is ultimately up to the individual whether or not they trust these companies with their DNA, and whether the benefits of DNA testing outweigh the potential downsides.